If you haven't paid attention lately, there are a lot of items that are hard-to-find because of supply chain issues. From baby formula to computer chips to groceries to canned cat food to name just a few. Now you can add two more things to the list: steel iron shafts and putter shafts. If you are a clubmaker, you might be scrambling around trying to find anything you can get your hands on so you can complete a set of irons, build a putter, or repair a broken club for a customer.
Root of the steel shaft shortage
The fact is the supply chain issue is real and it is not going to get better anytime soon. COVID put a hamper on the initial supply disruption for steel shafts, but other factors emerged. First, golf flourished during COVID so manufacturers ordered more and more product putting extra stress onto an already backlogged system. To produce a steel golf shaft requires specialized equipment and there are very few manufacturers that can produce them. There is simply not enough capacity worldwide to meet the demand. Setting up a new steel shaft plant would be an expensive and potentially risky endeavor and one that may not see results for more than a year if not longer. Today, lead times for ordering a steel iron or putter shaft before that product is available can be as long as 18 months.
Creating a solution
More than a year ago we started looking for new sources outside the golf industry to produce a steel shaft only to find out they could not produce a quality product that was both durable and cosmetically acceptable. However, there was one segment of the golf industry that could provide goods in a timely fashion and that was the graphite shaft manufacturers. You might associate graphite with lighter weight. After all, that was the reason they became popular. But graphite or composite shafts can be made to an endless range of specifications.
A low-cost alternative to a steel putter shaft
We began working with a few graphite manufacturers who could replicate the weight, stiffness, and balance of a steel putter shaft. Oh, and one more important factor - it had to be affordable or comparable in price. After several prototypes were made, the viable candidates were placed into putter heads of various weights and player testing began. Several of those golfers I handed the graphite-shafted putters did not notice any difference in feel or performance between a normal steel putter shaft. Mission accomplished. One player even thought it was a black steel putter shaft.
What specifications make for a putter or a wedge shaft?
If you look at most putter shafts and steel shafts designated as "wedge" flex, they have something in common. They are all heavy and they are stiff flex, specifically in a narrow frequency range. The latter is to offset the heavier weight of those types of heads. If this shaft worked so well in a putter, why couldn't it work in a wedge?
Is the SK Fiber Pro 115 a graphite putter shaft or is it a graphite wedge shaft?
Well, it is both. After several more prototypes were made and installed into wedge heads, tested, and put into action onto the course the SK Fiber Pro 115 graphite shaft was born. While this was initially designed to be a putter shaft, it worked equally well in player product testing for a wedge. It has now become my go-to shaft in our upcoming Juggernaut Max CB wedge. One benefit to the heavier weight are the thicker shaft walls, which are a natural vibration dampener. Lastly, this shaft can be used in a chipper where the shaft fits into a hosel. We tested that too.
Additional fitting information
The shaft has a stealth matte black finish and no silkscreen that would be visually distracting. Due to the weight of the shaft and thicker walls at the tip, these are not able to be used in any putter (or chipper) that has a post or tang where the shaft fits over. On the positive side, the SK Fiber Pro 115 Graphite Wedge/Putter shaft has more than enough wall thickness that it can be sanded down to fit a taper tip wedge or putter.
While the SK Fiber Pro 115 Graphite Wedge/Putter shaft may only put a dent in the steel shaft shortage, it is a viable and affordable option for club builders to use to replace those steel shafts that are in high demand and hard to find.